The bickering between the Ford brand and Chevrolet over who finished first in the 2005 U.S. sales race is entertaining but largely beside the point.
Despite a 3.5 percent decline in sales last year, Chevrolet edged past Ford into the No. 1 spot for the first time since 1986. That's because Ford's sales were down even more.
But several weeks after Chevrolet declared victory, Ford raised an objection. Citing R.L. Polk & Co. registration numbers, Ford concluded that the blue oval brand finished ahead of Chevrolet, and it asked General Motors to stop advertising that Chevy had won.
GM says sales figures are what count, not registrations, because there often is a time lag between when a vehicle is purchased and when it is registered. GM plans to continue advertising that its brand is No. 1.
You can argue it either way. Only somehow, the debate seems silly this time around.
In January neither Chevy nor Ford finished first where it counts most -- in retail sales. If unprofitable fleet volume is excluded, Toyota outsold both brands during the month. Ford and Chevy gorged on low-profit sales to daily-rental and corporate fleets.
The Ford-Chevy squabble is like two guys duking it out over the last Jell-O in the cafeteria line -- while someone else makes off with their pizza burgers. It just isn't the clash of titans it once was.
Given the marketing advantage and bragging rights, it may be worth wrangling over who won. But the January retail figures show that their real fight is elsewhere.
Indeed, the mood of dealers at the National Automobile Dealers Association convention in Orlando last week reflected what has become a recurring theme: Import-brand dealers are feeling fine; domestic-brand dealers are not.
Our own online survey of dealers this month reflected the same sentiment. Dealers' attitudes about business prospects vary widely depending on whether they represent a domestic brand or sell cars and trucks built by Toyota, Honda or Nissan.
The "Who's No. 1?" debate between Ford and Chevy is quaint -- and kind of nostalgic -- but almost irrelevant.